Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Required Reading

By Tracy Kiely

There are certain hard-wired rules by which we all live our lives. Of course, these rules vary from person to person, but I think that most people, if asked, will acknowledge that they do exist.

Where do these rules come from? Who knows? They could be handed down from your parents, or that weird teacher you had in second grade, or even the media. The point is, they are there, and they guide us in our day-to-day lives.

For instance, I believe that homemade meals are better than store bought. Not only because the ingredients tend to be better, but because of the cost. Feeding your family, especially little kids, processed food is not only costly, but it just isn’t healthy.

I also believe that children should be encouraged to use their imaginations rather than TV for entertainment. Studies have proven that there are harmful effects to plopping your kids in front of vapid and, at times, violent cartoons.

As Americans, I think that we need to break out of our comfort zone and learn a second language. Just because we speak the “language of Shakespeare” is no reason to remain in a linguistic bubble. The world is shrinking, but many of us refuse to accept this.

And finally, if you are a writer, then critique groups are an invaluable asset to your craft. Not only does someone else read your stuff and provide feedback, but you are exposed to different styles and genres which in turn help you expand as a writer.

Anyway, these are rules I believe.

Unfortunately, I don’t actually practice any of them.

Not a damn one.

For instance, if Martha Stewart saw the hot mess I created the time I tried to recreate her spaghetti sauce, she would hop on her private jet, knock on my door, and slap me silly. And you know, it would hurt. Martha does not mess around. So, if we have spaghetti, it's made with Prego, and I avoid slap marks.

If Sponge Bob and Bugs Bunny didn’t exist, my kids would be under my feet all day and I would get nothing done. And you know what? No one in our family laughs harder at the coyote’s mutilation trying to catch the road runner. (And if you want to read something really funny, go here. It’s the opening statement of the case of Coyote v. Acme.)

I really, really want to learn French. I took it in college, and my husband even bought me the Rosetta Stone software. Every once in a while I look longingly at the dusty box in the corner and think, “One day…”

I wish I had the time for a critique group. I really do. When I first started writing, I gave my stories and chapters to family and friends. They loved it. All of it. I was elated until I remembered that these were same people that hung my crap finger paintings on the refrigerator like they were Picassos, so it’s safe to say that they were a biased group.

Knowing this, I went in search of unbiased critiques. I found a website ( which fit the bill nicely. I could post anonymously and receive reviews from complete strangers. They had no reason to be anything but blunt and I loved it. Later, I joined another group that formed out of a class I took, and then it got trickier. I became friendly with some of these people and had a hard time being completely honest with them, for fear of hurting their feelings. The group shrank until it was just me and one other woman. Her writing was great, and I loved her feedback on my stuff. But at this point another problem crept into the arrangement.

The laundry.

Now, I have three kids – one of whom I am convinced is dumping her clean clothes into the dirty laundry bin rather than putting them away. (How else do you explain a winter coat needing washing in the middle of summer?) But even with three kids, the amount of laundry around here is staggering. In fact, I am beginning to suspect that the neighbors are sneaking their clothes in with mine. But the point is (yes, I’m getting there), that I just didn’t have the time to read someone else’s writing and respond with thoughtful comments. I loved the feedback I got, but didn’t feel that I was able to reciprocate.

So, once again, another one of my hard and fast rules for living is in the corner gathering dust.

Right next to that damn pile of laundry.

ENDNOTE: On my last post, I offered a free copy of my book Murder on the Bride's Side to the first person to correctly guess my truths and lies. No one got it (hint: I did once jump off a bridge. And sadly, it was because everyone else did). So instead, I will offer the book to the first person who can correctly tell me, in Pride and Prejudice, which of the Bennet sisters is the tallest?


Meredith Cole said...

As a wise writer once said to me, writing has really gotten in the way of my reading time. I don't have time to be in a critique group these days, but I do try to swap reads with friends. It's great to have someone give you feedback, and it's especially important when you're starting your career (and don't have agent/editor yet).

Very funny post, Tracy!

TracyK said...

Thanks, Meredith! I hardly ever get time to read these days. I even created an abridged version of GoodNight Moon for the kids ("There was a bunny. He was tired. He went to sleep")BTW, I tweaked the blog after you read and am now offering a give-a-way based on an Austen trivia question. Good luck!

Joshua Corin said...

Tracy, you really, really had me going there. I was ready to bow down and worship at your feet for all the fantastic habits you practiced...and then you turned out to be a mortal just like the rest of us, and that, of course, is even better.

TracyK said...

I knew a woman once who did stick to all her lofty ideals. Sadly, she was killed by irate friends and neighbors during a Tupperware party she was hosting.

Kelli Stanley said...

I'm predicting the emergence of a new subgenre of Tupperware horror ...

Great post, Tracy! :)

I'll try to guess the Austen question ... I'm torn between Jane and Mary, but I'm going with Jane.

TracyK said...

Ohhh, I like it! Death by Tupperware from the Murder Most Fresh series. As for the give-a-way, I will keep the answer quiet until all answers have been received!

TracyK said...

We have a winner! She poster her answer to me on Facebook. The correct answer is Lydia!copleb